How to Develop Trust After You've Been Betrayed

Aug 16, 2020

We trust someone that we know “understands” us, our context, our situation, our needs, what makes it work for us, and what makes it break down. When they truly understand, and we experience that with that understanding, they care, the connection of empathy opens us up to trust them.

Have you ever experienced a situation where you tried to tell someone something you were going through, or tell a boss or a team member about a difficulty you were facing in the work, and you got no understanding? Where the response was something like, “It’s not that bad. You just need to go do such and such.” What happens? You walk out of there thinking, “he just doesn’t get it.” There is no connection, and you are not going to trust them to help. Further, you are not going to be as open to investing more of yourself with someone who doesn’t “get it.”

The highest performing teams are ones that each person around the table understands what they others are dealing with, what they need from each other to succeed, and how they can best help each other. The highest performing companies are the ones whose customers feel like the company really understands their needs, and meets those needs. The best salespeople are ones that listen and truly get the customers context, what they need, how it has to work for them, and the like. When someone feels understood, you will get their vote, their hardest work, their hearts, their investment, and their alliance.

On the other hand, if someone does not feel like we “get it,” their entire system begins to close down, and investment is not forthcoming. I love to study interactions with customer service people and their customers in those moments where it really matters, like with airlines and passengers who are frustrated that something has gone wrong with their trip. Or in stores, or hotels, or hospitals. When you look for this dynamic, you can really see it, and you can see the difference it makes.

One the non-understanding end of things, they tend to try to devalue what you are saying, tell you why you did something wrong, or should have known better. The other day, I went to a restaurant in an airport, sat at the counter for about 15 minutes waiting for service. I tried to catch someone’s eye, but never could, and continued to work on my messages. Finally, I noticed the time, and realized that I was not going to have time enough to get my food before and make my flight. So, I got up to leave.
At that point, the person behind the counter asked me if everything was good, and I said, “Actually, no. I have been waiting so long for service that now I don’t have enough time.”

Immediately, he said, “Well, you should have come up and found one of us. You shouldn’t have just waited. We would have gotten you something if you had come up and told us.”

“Ok, thanks,” I said. What I didn’t say was “Oh…. You’re right. I write books on taking responsibility and being proactive, and there is no doubt about it….you are exactly right. This is my fault. Thanks for telling me. I should have taken responsibility and been proactive. I should not have been working on my mail, and let the time get away. Thank you for the life lesson. I will always remember it.” But I wanted to.

The fact of the matter was that of course he was right. Of course I could have done that. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t and the reality was I didn’t get service, no matter whose fault it was.”

I wanted to say some other not so nice things.

As I kept walking, another server was walking across the space and when she asked how everything was, I told her the same thing and she said, “Oh no! That’s so frustrating. I’m sorry that happened ... We are kind of swamped and overwhelmed right now, and that is a bummer. Sorry we missed you.”

All of a sudden, in some way, it didn’t matter anymore. Someone had understood. That’s pretty much all I needed ... the food could wait.

This is a difficult one for us to do as humans. We are often too concerned about ourselves to try to really understand what is going on with someone else, and make sure they know that we understand. I often say to leaders, “you do not understand your people, or your customer when you understand them. You understand them when they understand that you understand.